The dumbening deepens: Schools next for international student boom


By Leith van Onselen

In 2016, the Turnbull Government implemented a new visa enabling international primary school students and their guardians to access Australian schools and purchase Australian property ahead of achieving permanent residency (see here, here and here).

At the time, I labelled this “one of the worst policies that I have ever seen”, since it would exacerbate already chronic over-crowding across Australia’s school system, would make housing even less affordable, and would add further strains on economic and social infrastructure across the major cities.

Over the weekend, the Murdoch tabloids reported that the federal government was aggressively marketing Australia’s school system at roadshows across China:

Australian schools are being touted in a government-run roadshow across China.

The schools “showcase”, which will travel to as many as five Chinese cities, will promote primary and secondary schools as pathways to Australian universities…

Documents reveal the federal government plans to run a series of workshops and seminars to spruik the nation’s school system in a bid to bolster Chinese student numbers…

Experts from Australia and China will also meet to discuss ways they can better recognise learning and qualifications across the two nations to improve international student and worker mobility…

Monash University senior lecturer David Zyngier said the roadshow was “quite clearly about the money” brought in by international students…

“They’re looking to gain entry to universities here because they know they’ll get permanent residency and then go on to buy property here,” he said.

But he said many Chinese students who came to Australia for their tertiary studies struggled with the way curriculum was taught and assessed…

“They’re used to studying for a test and don’t know how to think creatively whereas our curriculum relies on critical and creative thinking and problem solving.”


There are severe problems with this policy.

First, Australia’s schools are already suffering from chronic overcrowding (e.g. see here and here), therefore, it makes no sense burdening them with additional international students.

Indeed, the Grattan Institute in 2016 estimated that the number of school students would balloon by 650,000 (17%) by 2026, which would require the building of an additional 400 to 750 new schools (up from 9,400 currently). NSW (mostly Sydney) would need an additional 213 schools to cope with an additional 14% of students over the next decade, whereas Victoria (mostly Melbourne) would require an additional 220 schools to cope with an additional 19% of students (see below graphic).

ScreenHunter_11161 Jan. 22 08.29

Where is the additional federal investment in schools and infrastructure to keep up with the international student influx?

Second, education standards will very likely be damaged by having non-English speaking Chinese students littered across Australia’s classrooms, as we have witnessed with universities.

How often will teachers have to pause to explain concepts to Chinese students in the class? And will they be forbidden from teaching Australian values and be forced to pussy-foot around matters related to Taiwan, Tibet, and western values blacklisted in Document No. 9, as we have already witnessed in Australian universities?


Third, the guardians of these students will be permitted to purchase Australian property. Thus, it will place further upward pressure on Australian house prices, reducing affordability.

Is this what Australia has been reduced to: selling-off land, houses and residency to wealthy Chinese while dumbing down our own kids?

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About the author
Leith van Onselen is Chief Economist at the MB Fund and MB Super. He is also a co-founder of MacroBusiness. Leith has previously worked at the Australian Treasury, Victorian Treasury and Goldman Sachs.